> Judaism 101 > Jewish Law > Laws of Shabbat (Adv.)

14. Borer - Part 4: Beyond the Edible

April 28, 2015 | by

Clothes, books, silverware and more.

Since Borer is one of the melachot included in 'the order of bread,'1 we have appropriately focused on its many food-related applications. But, like some other melachot, Borer applies also to non-edible things. We'll learn about some of the more common situations.


David wants to choose a suit from his closet to wear on Shabbat morning. Assuming that he has a number of different suits, selecting one from the group would be a form of Borer. This is so because even though all the items are 'suits', the differences among them (material, weight, color, and so on) make them a mixture of different halachic "types."2

Although this action falls within the parameters of Borer, David can still choose a suit by following the three conditions we've discussed before: making the selection

  1. Biyad – by hand
  2. Miyad – for immediate use, and
  3. Ochel – by choosing the desired item from the undesired ones

This seems pretty easy to accomplish, since it's the normal way of picking out clothes.3 There are some nuances, though. Think about the idea of "immediate use." This means that if you need clothes for Shabbat morning, you should not select them from your drawer or closet on Friday night, since you are not going to use them until the next day.

Keep in mind that it's only necessary to meet the three conditions when selecting from among a mixture of items (e.g. your typical teenage boy, who may arrange his clothes in one large pile on the floor). On the other hand, if your clothes are neatly organized with each item is in its own place, then there would be no issue of Borer to begin with.

What if in picking out an article of clothing, you need to push aside some other items – e.g., when taking out socks of your drawer? Would this be considered an act of Borer? Here the halacha makes an important distinction: If the item you are searching for is buried in the pile, and you know where it is, then it is permitted to move other things out of the way. This is not considered to be "selecting."4 However, if the item is buried in the pile, and you don't know where it is, then moving the other items aside to search for it is considered an act of Borer.5

This issue comes up frequently during the winter, when people often pile up all their coats in one place. In order to get your own coat, you'll almost always have to move aside a bunch of other ones.6


Studying Jewish texts is an integral part of Jewish life, and is a popular activity on Shabbat. A number of Borer scenarios can arise regarding books. (Holy books, such as prayer books and Torah-related texts, are known as sefarim – Hebrew for books.7 This is the term we'll use here.)

How might this issue come up? At the conclusion of synagogue services, a few kind people usually go around to collect the prayer books (siddurim) and Torah books (chumashim). Naturally, we are inclined to put each book back in its proper place. But if you've gathered up a bunch of different types of books, then you have a halachic "mixture." If so, selecting one book at a time from your pile, so you can place it where it belongs, would be Borer. This is because you aren't doing this selection "for immediate use."8 On the contrary, your purpose is to put the sefarim away for later use.9

To avoid this problem, the synagogue book-gatherer has a few options:

  1. gather only one type of book at a time
  2. gather different types of books, but wait until after Shabbat to replace them on the shelves, or
  3. read a short passage from each book before putting it away. This last, ingenious solution works because it creates an "immediate use" for each book, thus satisfying that condition.10

These issues apply only when the various sefarim are similar in appearance, so that you can't easily tell the difference between them. When this is not the case – that is, when you have books of different shapes, sizes or colors, so you can easily tell them apart – there is no "mixture," and thus no Borer issue at all.11


As we've mentioned, different eating utensils (e.g. spoons vs. forks) are considered different "types" in halacha.12 Questions of Borer can come up regarding setting the table, clearing the table, and storing the utensils.

Setting – the table may always be set, with all necessary silverware, for immediate use.

How about setting up ahead of time (that is, when the meal is not happening "immediately")? This depends. If your silverware is neatly arranged in separate sections, there is no "mixture," and therefore no problem of Borer – so you may set up. If the items are all together in a "mixture," you cannot.

What you may do is take the silverware and drop it lightly on a flat surface, thus scattering the individual items. This will have the effect of "unmixing the mixture," and you can then go ahead and select what you need.13

Also, if the person setting the table derives pleasure from the esthetics of the arrangement, this enjoyment itself is an "immediate use," separate from the practical use to be made of the silverware during the meal. Under this theory, someone who wants to set the table ahead of time so as to enjoy the setting may do so.14

Clearing – As with sefarim, mixed silverware cannot be placed back in storage compartments after being cleared from the table, since there is no "immediate use" to be derived from this selection.15 However, the "unmixing the mixture" solution may be used.16

Storage – If you'd like to put away used utensils in the dishwasher, you may do so if your motivation is just to get the dishes stored and out of the way. By contrast, if your goal is to get the dishes ready for washing after Shabbat, this would not be allowed because we should not prepare on Shabbat, for after Shabbat.17 (More on this later in the course.)

It is better not to stack the dishes after they're removed from the table, since then you'll have to un-stack them to place them into the sink or dishwasher, an action which could involve Borer. There are two ways to avoid this issue: (1) don't place different dishes or utensils in the same stack, or (2) simply remove each item from the table and place it directly into the sink or dishwasher.18

With this lesson, we have completed our discussion of the melacha of Borer. Congratulations on your patience. We now move on to Meraked, regarded as Borer's close relative.

  1. Look back at lesson #3, where we introduced this concept.
  2. See our initial lesson on Borer (#11).
  3. Biur Halacha 319:3; see 39 Melochos, p. 446.
  4. In halacha, this act is called siluk, which means ‘removal’.
  5. Mishnah Berurah and Biur Halacha 319:3
  6. Mishnah Berurah 319:15; 39 Melochos, p. 446; Halachos of Shabbos, X:G.6 (p. 183).
  7. Pronounced se-fah-REEM (Israeli style) or se-FUH-rim (Ashkenazic style).
  8. Orach Chaim 319:1; 39 Melochos, p. 443.
  9. A related application of this principle applies to game pieces. Once done with a board game, you are not allowed to sort the pieces and place them in their respective compartments. (For example, think of sorting black and white chess pieces). 39 Melochos, p. 442. Other examples include putting away silverware, or separating different cakes after a Kiddush.
  10. 39 Melochos, p. 443.
  11. Halachos of Shabbos, X:G.7 (p. 184); 39 Melochos, p. 443.
  12. See the first page of our first Borer lesson (#11).
  13. Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:74:11); 39 Melochos, p. 418.
  14. Teshuva of Rav S. Z. Auerbach (end of Sefer Me’or HaShabbat); 39 Melochos, p. 444. The halacha’s recognition of esthetic enjoyment is noteworthy.
  15. This assumes that the utensils are being washed and dried after the meal, which is only permitted if they will be needed again before Shabbat is over. This will be discussed in detail later in the course.
  16. Talmud Shabbos 74a; Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:74:11); Halachos of Shabbos, X:G.5 (p. 182).
  17. Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:74); 39 Melochos, p. 446.
  18. Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:74); 39 Melochos, p. 445.

Related Posts

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram